Friday, April 29, 2011

european women in chemistry

I wrote a "long essay review" on the book European women in chemistry, which, by definition, is more of an essay than a review. I've conjured up a book review variant of the time traveller's paradox (the one about going back in time and killing one's grandmother): If my grandmother had pursued a career in chemistry after her degree, she might have ended up in this book, but I wouldn't be here to review it ... You can find my essay review in Chemistry & Industry issue 8, p26 or online here (restricted access).

Some critical remarks about the book itself:

I love the idea of compiling these biographies in a volume celebrating the year of chemistry and centuries of women’s contribution to chemistry, but I think the editors could have done more to provide some added value, seeing that the bare-bones info is easy to find on the web these days.

For instance, a simple thing that someone could have done during proof-reading would be to cross-reference the names of women who have a chapter of their own, but are also mentioned in other chapters, such that readers have the option of navigating the network of the female chemists. Then, somebody should have checked the references. Those at the end of Marie Curie’s chapter include German translations of biographies published in English and French. Where a full-length biography exists, it should definitely be mentioned, but I noticed that Brenda Maddox’s tome on Rosalind Franklin has been omitted. I suspect there must be a dedicated biography of Irene Joliot-Curie as well, which we aren’t told about.

The uninspiring prose doesn’t really invite the reader to read the book from cover to cover, which is a shame. However, what I hope the chapters will achieve is to tickle people’s curiosity sufficiently to ensure that they go and find out more about those of the chemists they find interesting.

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